CAIRO AND THE PLAGUE
 CAIRO and plague!
During the whole time of my stay the plague was so master of the city, and showed itself so staringly in every
street and every alley, that I can't now affect to dissociate the two ideas.
 When coming from the Desert I rode through a village which lies near to the city on the eastern side, there
approached me with busy face and earnest gestures a personage in the Turkish dress. His long flowing beard
gave him rather a majestic look, but his briskness of manner, and his visible anxiety to accost me, seemed
strange in an Oriental. The man in fact was French, or of French origin, and his object was to warn me of the
plague, and prevent me from entering the city.
"Arretez-vous, monsieur, je vous en prie—arretez-vous; il ne faut pas entrer dans la ville; la peste y
"Oui, je sais, mais—"
"Mais monsieur, je dis la peste—la peste; c'est de LA PESTE, qu'il est question."
"Oui, je sais, mais—"
"Mais monsieur, je dis encore LA PESTE,—LA PESTE. Je vous conjure
de ne pas entrer dans la ville—vous seriez dans une ville empestee."
"Oui, je sais, mais—"
"Mais monsieur, je dois donc vous avertir tout bonnement que si vous entrez dans la ville, vous
serez—enfin vous serez COMPROMIS!"
"Oui, je sais, mais—"
The Frenchman was at last convinced that it was vain to reason with a mere Englishman, who could not
understand what it was to be "compromised." I thanked him most sincerely for his kindly meant warning; in hot
countries it is very unusual indeed for a man to go out in the glare of the sun and give free advice to a
When I arrived at Cairo I summoned Osman Effendi, who was, as I knew, the owner of several houses, and would
be able to provide me with apartments. He had no difficulty in doing this, for there was not one European
traveller in Cairo
 besides myself. Poor Osman! he met me with a sorrowful countenance, for the fear of the plague sat heavily on
his soul. He seemed as if he felt that he was doing wrong in lending me a resting-place, and he betrayed such
a listlessness about temporal matters, as one might look for in a man who believed that his days were
numbered. He caught me too soon after my arrival coming out from the public baths,
and from that time forward he was sadly afraid of me, for he shared the opinions of Europeans with respect to
the effect of contagion.
Osman's history is a curious one. He was a Scotchman born, and when very young, being then a drummer-boy, he
landed in Egypt with Fraser's force. He was taken prisoner, and according to Mahometan custom, the alternative
of death or the Koran was offered to him; he did not choose death, and therefore went through the ceremonies
which were necessary for turning him into a good Mahometan. But what amused me most in his history was this,
that very soon after having embraced Islam he was obliged in practice to become curious and discriminating in
his new faith, to make war upon Mahometan dissenters, and follow the orthodox standard of the Prophet in
fierce campaigns against the Wahabees, who are the Unitarians of the Mussulman world. The Wahabees were
crushed, and Osman returning home in triumph from his holy wars, began to flourish in the world. He acquired
property, and became effendi, or gentleman. At the time of my visit to Cairo he seemed to be much respected by
his brother Mahometans, and gave pledge of his sincere alienation from Christianity by keeping a couple of
wives. He affected the same sort of reserve in mentioning them as is generally shown by Orientals. He invited
me, indeed, to see his harem, but he made both his wives bundle
 out before I was admitted. He felt, as it seemed to me, that neither of them would bear criticism, and I think
that this idea, rather than any motive of sincere jealousy, induced him to keep them out of sight. The rooms
of the harem reminded me of an English nursery rather than of a Mahometan paradise. One is apt to judge of a
woman before one sees her by the air of elegance or coarseness with which she surrounds her home; I judged
Osman's wives by this test, and condemned them both. But the strangest feature in Osman's character was his
inextinguishable nationality. In vain they had brought him over the seas in early boyhood; in vain had he
suffered captivity, conversion, circumcision; in vain they had passed him through fire in their Arabian
campaigns, they could not cut away or burn out poor Osman's inborn love of all that was Scotch; in vain men
called him Effendi; in vain he swept along in eastern robes; in vain the rival wives adorned his harem: the
joy of his heart still plainly lay in this, that he had three shelves of books, and that the books were
thoroughbred Scotch—the Edinburgh this, the Edinburgh that, and above all, I recollect, he prided
himself upon the "Edinburgh Cabinet Library."
The fear of the plague is its forerunner. It is likely enough that at the time of my seeing poor Osman the
deadly taint was beginning to creep through his veins, but it was not till after I had left Cairo that he was
visibly stricken. He died.
As soon as I had seen all that I wanted to see in Cairo and in the neighbourhood I wished to make my escape
from a city that lay under the terrible curse of the plague, but Mysseri fell ill, in consequence, I believe,
of the hardships which he had been suffering in my service. After a while he recovered sufficiently to
undertake a journey, but then there was some difficulty in procuring beasts of burthen, and it was not till
the nineteenth day of my sojourn that I quitted the city.
During all this time the power of the plague was rapidly increasing. When I first arrived, it was said that
the daily number of "accidents" by plague, out of a population of about two hundred thousand, did not exceed
four or five hundred, but before I
 went away the deaths were reckoned at twelve hundred a day. I had no means of knowing whether the numbers
(given out, as I believe they were, by officials) were at all correct, but I could not help knowing that from
day to day the number of the dead was increasing. My quarters were in a street which was one of the chief
thoroughfares of the city. The funerals in Cairo take place between daybreak and noon, and as I was generally
in my rooms during this part of the day, I could form some opinion as to the briskness of the plague. I don't
mean this for a sly insinuation that I got up every morning with the sun. It was not so; but the funerals of
most people in decent circumstances at Cairo are attended by singers and howlers, and the performances of
these people woke me in the early morning, and prevented me from remaining in ignorance of what was going on
in the street below.
These funerals were very simply conducted. The bier was a shallow wooden tray, carried upon a light and weak
wooden frame. The tray had, in general, no lid, but the body was more or less hidden from view by a shawl or
scarf. The whole was borne upon the shoulders of men, who contrived to cut along with their burthen at a great
pace. Two or three singers generally preceded the bier; the howlers (who are paid for their vocal labours)
followed after, and last of all came such of the dead man's friends and relations as could keep up with such a
rapid procession; these, especially the women, would get terribly blown, and would straggle back into the
rear; many were fairly "beaten off." I never observed any appearance of mourning in the mourners: the pace was
too severe for any solemn affectation of grief.
When first I arrived at Cairo the funerals that daily passed under my windows were many, but still there were
frequent and long intervals without a single howl. Every day, however (except one, when I fancied that I
observed a diminution of funerals), these intervals became less frequent and shorter, and at last, the passing
of the howlers from morn till noon was almost incessant. I believe that about one-half of the whole people was
carried off by this visitation. The Orientals, however, have more quiet fortitude than Europeans under
afflictions of this sort, and they never allow the plague to
 interfere with their religious usages. I rode one day round the great burial-ground. The tombs are strewed
over a great expanse, among the vast mountains of rubbish (the accumulations of many centuries) which surround
the city. The ground, unlike the Turkish "cities of the dead," which are made so beautiful by their dark
cypresses, has nothing to sweeten melancholy, nothing to mitigate the odiousness of death. Carnivorous beasts
and birds possess the place by night, and now in the fair morning it was all alive with fresh
comers—alive with dead. Yet at this very time, when the plague was raging so furiously, and on this very
ground, which resounded so mournfully with the howls of arriving funerals, preparations were going on for the
religious festival called the Kourban Bairam. Tents were pitched, and SWINGS HUNG FOR THE
AMUSEMENT OF CHILDREN—a ghastly holiday; but the Mahometans take a pride, and a just pride, in
following their ancient customs undisturbed by the shadow of death.
I did not hear, whilst I was at Cairo, that any prayer for a remission of the plague had been offered up in
the mosques. I believe that however frightful the ravages of the disease may be, the Mahometans refrain from
approaching Heaven with their complaints until the plague has endured for a long space, and then at last they
pray God, not that the plague may cease, but that it may go to another city!
A good Mussulman seems to take pride in repudiating the European notion that the will of God can be eluded by
eluding the touch of a sleeve. When I went to see the pyramids of Sakkara I was the guest of a noble old
fellow, an Osmanlee, whose soft rolling language it was a luxury to hear after suffering, as I had suffered of
late, from the shrieking tongue of the Arabs. This man was aware of the European ideas about contagion, and
his first care therefore was to assure me that not a single instance of plague had occurred in his village. He
then inquired as to the progress of the plague at Cairo. I had but a bad account to give. Up to this time my
host had carefully refrained from touching me out of respect to the European theory of contagion, but as soon
as it was made
 plain that he, and not I, would be the person endangered by contact, he gently laid his hand upon my arm, in
order to make me feel sure that the circumstance of my coming from an infected city did not occasion him the
least uneasiness. In that touch there was true hospitality.
Very different is the faith and the practice of the Europeans, or rather, I mean of the Europeans settled in
the East, and commonly called Levantines. When I came to the end of my journey over the Desert I had been so
long alone, that the prospect of speaking to somebody at Cairo seemed almost a new excitement. I felt a sort
of consciousness that I had a little of the wild beast about me, but I was quite in the humour to be
charmingly tame, and to be quite engaging in my manners, if I should have an opportunity of holding communion
with any of the human race whilst at Cairo. I knew no one in the place, and had no letters of introduction,
but I carried letters of credit, and it often happens in places remote from England that those "advices"
operate as a sort of introduction, and obtain for the bearer (if disposed to receive them) such ordinary
civilities as it may be in the power of the banker to offer.
Very soon after my arrival I went to the house of the Levantine to whom my credentials were addressed. At his
door several persons (all Arabs) were hanging about and keeping guard. It was not till after some delay, and
the passing of some communications with those in the interior of the citadel, that I was admitted. At length,
however, I was conducted through the court, and up a flight of stairs, and finally into the apartment where
business was transacted. The room was divided by an excellent, substantial fence of iron bars, and behind this
grille the banker had his station. The truth was, that from fear of the plague he had adopted the course
usually taken by European residents, and had shut himself up "in strict quarantine"—that is to say, that
he had, as he hoped, cut himself off from all communication with infecting substances. The Europeans long
resident in the East, without any, or with scarcely any,
excep-  tion are firmly convinced that the plague is propagated by contact, and by contact only; that if they can but
avoid the touch of an infecting substance they are safe, and that if they cannot, they die. This belief
induces them to adopt the contrivance of putting themselves in that state of siege which they call
"quarantine." It is a part of their faith that metals, and hempen rope, and also, I fancy, one or two other
substances, will not carry the infection; and they likewise believe that the germ of pestilence, which lies in
an infected substance, may be destroyed by submersion in water, or by the action of smoke. They therefore
guard the doors of their houses with the utmost care against intrusion, and condemn themselves, with all the
members of their family, including any European servants, to a strict imprisonment within the walls of their
dwelling. Their native attendants are not allowed to enter at all, but they make the necessary purchases of
provisions, which are hauled up through one of the windows by means of a rope, and are then soaked in water.
I knew nothing of these mysteries, and was not therefore prepared for the sort of reception which I met with.
I advanced to the iron fence, and putting my letter between the bars, politely proffered it to Mr. Banker. Mr.
Banker received me with a sad and dejected look, and not "with open arms," or with any arms at all, but
with—a pair of tongs! I placed my letter between the iron fingers, which picked it up as if it were a
viper, and conveyed it away to be scorched and purified by fire and smoke. I was disgusted at this reception,
and at the idea that anything of mine could carry infection to the poor wretch who stood on the other side of
the grille, pale and trembling, and already meet for death. I looked with something of the Mahometan's feeling
upon these little contrivances for eluding fate; and in this instance, at least, they were vain. A few more
days, and the poor money-changer, who had striven to guard the days of his life (as though they were coins)
with bolts and bars of iron—he was seized by the plague, and he died.
To people entertaining such opinions as these respecting
 the fatal effect of contact, the narrow and crowded streets of Cairo were terrible as the easy slope that
leads to Avernus. The roaring ocean and the beetling crags owe something of their sublimity to this—that
if they be tempted, they can take the warm life of a man. To the contagionist, filled as he is with the dread
of final causes, having no faith in destiny nor in the fixed will of God, and with none of the devil-may-care
indifference which might stand him instead of creeds—to such one, every rag that shivers in the breeze
of a plague-stricken city has this sort of sublimity. If by any terrible ordinance he be forced to venture
forth, he sees death dangling from every sleeve, and as he creeps forward, he poises his shuddering limbs
between the imminent jacket that is stabbing at his right elbow and the murderous pelisse that threatens to
mow him clean down as it sweeps along on his left. But most of all, he dreads that which most of all he should
love—the touch of a woman's dress; for mothers and wives, hurrying forth on kindly errands from the
bedsides of the dying, go slouching along through the streets more wilfully and less courteously than the men.
For a while it may be that the caution of the poor Levantine may enable him to avoid contact, but sooner or
later perhaps the dreaded chance arrives; that bundle of linen, with the dark tearful eyes at the top of it,
that labours along with the voluptuous clumsiness of Grisi—she has touched the poor Levantine with the
hem of her sleeve! From that dread moment his peace is gone; his mind, for ever hanging upon the fatal touch,
invites the blow which he fears. He watches for the symptoms of plague so carefully, that sooner or later they
come in truth. The parched mouth is a sign—his mouth is parched; the throbbing brain—his brain
DOES throb; the rapid pulse—he touches his own wrist (for he dares not ask counsel of any man lest he be
deserted), he touches his wrist, and feels how his frighted blood goes galloping out of his heart; there is
nothing but the fatal swelling that is wanting to make his sad conviction complete; immediately he has an odd
feel under the arm—no pain, but a little straining of the skin. He would to God it were his
 fancy that were strong enough to give him that sensation. This is the worst of all; it now seems to him that
he could be happy and contented with his parched mouth and his throbbing brain and his rapid pulse, if only he
could know that there were no swelling under the left arm; but dare he try?—In a moment of calmness and
deliberation he dares not, but when for a while he has writhed under the torture of suspense, a sudden
strength of will drives him to seek and know his fate. He touches the gland, and finds the skin sane and
sound, but under the cuticle there lies a small lump like a pistol-bullet, that moves as he pushes it. Oh! but
is this for all certainty, is this the sentence of death? Feel the gland of the other arm; there is not the
same lump exactly, yet something a little like it: have not some people glands naturally enlarged?—would
to Heaven he were one! So he does for himself the work of the plague, and when the Angel of Death, thus
courted, does indeed and in truth come, he has only to finish that which has been so well begun; he passes his
fiery hand over the brain of the victim, and lets him rave for a season, but all chance-wise, of people and
things once dear, or of people and things indifferent. Once more the poor fellow is back at his home in fair
Provence, and sees the sun-dial that stood in his childhood's garden; sees part of his mother, and the
long-since-forgotten face of that little dead sister (he sees her, he says, on a Sunday morning, for all the
church bells are ringing); he looks up and down through the universe, and owns it well piled with bales upon
bales of cotton, and cotton eternal—so much so that he feels, he knows, he swears he could make that
winning hazard, if the billiard table would not slant upwards, and if the cue were a cue worth playing with;
but it is not—it's a cue that won't move—his own arm won't move—in short, there's the devil
to pay in the brain of the poor Levantine, and perhaps the next night but one he becomes the "life and the
soul" of some squalling jackal family who fish him out by the foot from his shallow and sandy grave.
Better fate was mine. By some happy perverseness
 (occasioned perhaps by my disgust at the notion of being received with a pair of tongs) I took it into my
pleasant head that all the European notions about contagion were thoroughly unfounded; that the plague might
be providential or "epidemic" (as they phrase it), but was not contagious; and that I could not be killed by
the touch of a woman's sleeve, nor yet by her blessed breath. I therefore determined that the plague should
not alter my habits and amusements in any one respect. Though I came to this resolve from impulse, I think
that I took the course which was in effect the most prudent, for the cheerfulness of spirits which I was thus
enabled to retain discouraged the yellow-winged angel, and prevented him from taking a shot at me. I, however,
so far respected the opinion of the Europeans, that I avoided touching when I could do so without privation or
inconvenience. This endeavour furnished me with a sort of amusement as I passed through the streets. The usual
mode of moving from place to place in the city of Cairo is upon donkeys, of which great numbers are always in
readiness, with donkey-boys attached. I had two who constantly (until one of them died of the plague) waited
at my door upon the chance of being wanted. I found this way of moving about exceedingly pleasant, and never
attempted any other. I had only to mount my beast, and tell my donkey-boy the point for which I was bound, and
instantly I began to glide on at a capital pace.
The streets of Cairo are not paved in any way, but strewed with a dry sandy soil, so deadening to sound, that
the footfall of my donkey could scarcely be heard. There is no trottoir, and as you ride through the streets
you mingle with the people on foot. Those who are in your way, upon being warned by the shouts of the
donkey-boy, move very slightly aside, so as to leave you a narrow lane, through which you pass at a gallop. In
this way you glide on delightfully in the very midst of crowds, without being inconvenienced or stopped for a
moment. It seems to you that it is not the donkey but the donkey-boy who wafts you on with his shouts through
pleasant groups, and air that comes thick with
 the fragrance of burial spice. "Eh! Sheik, Eh! Bint,—reggalek,—"shumalek, &c. &c.—O old man,
O virgin, get out of the way on the right—O virgin, O old man, get out of the way on the left—this
Englishman comes, he comes, he comes!" The narrow alley which these shouts cleared for my passage made it
possible, though difficult, to go on for a long way without touching a single person, and my endeavours to
avoid such contact were a sort of game for me in my loneliness, which was not without interest. If I got
through a street without being touched, I won; if I was touched, I lost—lost a deuce of stake, according
to the theory of the Europeans; but that I deemed to be all nonsense—I only lost that game, and would
certainly win the next.
There is not much in the way of public buildings to admire at Cairo, but I saw one handsome mosque, to which
an instructive history is attached. A Hindustanee merchant having amassed an immense fortune settled in Cairo,
and soon found that his riches in the then state of the political world gave him vast power in the
city—power, however, the exercise of which was much restrained by the counteracting influence of other
wealthy men. With a view to extinguish every attempt at rivalry the Hindustanee merchant built this
magnificent mosque at his own expense. When the work was complete, he invited all the leading men of the city
to join him in prayer within the walls of the newly built temple, and he then caused to be massacred all those
who were sufficiently influential to cause him any jealousy or uneasiness—in short, all "the respectable
men" of the place; after this he possessed undisputed power in the city and was greatly revered—he is
revered to this day. It seemed to me that there was a touching simplicity in the mode which this man so
successfully adopted for gaining the confidence and goodwill of his fellow-citizens. There seems to be some
improbability in the story (though not nearly so gross as it might appear to an European ignorant of the East,
for witness Mehemet Ali's destruction of the Mamelukes, a closely similar act, and attended with the like
but even if the story be false as a mere fact, it is perfectly true as an illustration—it is a true
exposition of the means by which the respect and affection of Orientals may be conciliated.
I ascended one day to the citadel, which commands a superb view of the town. The fanciful and elaborate
gilt-work of the many minarets gives a light and florid grace to the city as seen from this height, but before
you can look for many seconds at such things your eyes are drawn westward—drawn westward and over the
Nile, till they rest upon the massive enormities of the Ghizeh Pyramids.
I saw within the fortress many yoke of men all haggard and woebegone, and a kennel of very fine lions well fed
and flourishing: I say yoke of men, for the poor fellows were working together in bonds; I say a
kennel of lions, for the beasts were not enclosed in cages, but simply chained up like dogs.
I went round the bazaars. It seemed to me that pipes and arms were cheaper here than at Constantinople, and I
should advise you therefore if you go to both places to prefer the market of Cairo. In the open slave-market I
saw about fifty girls exposed for sale, but all of them black, or "invisible" brown. A slave agent took me to
some rooms in the upper storey of the building, and also into several obscure houses in the neighbourhood,
with a view to show me some white women. The owners raised various objections to the display of their ware,
and well they might, for I had not the least notion of purchasing. Some refused on account of the illegality
of selling to unbelievers
and others declared that all transactions of this sort were completely out of the question as long as the
plague was raging. I only succeeded in seeing one white slave who was for sale, but on this treasure the owner
affected to set an immense value, and raised my expectations to a high pitch by saying that the girl was Cir-
 cassian, and was "fair as the full moon." There was a good deal of delay, but at last I was led into a long,
dreary room, and there, after marching timidly forward for a few paces, I descried at the farther end that
mass of white linen which indicates an Eastern woman. She was bid to uncover her face, and I presently saw
that, though very far from being good-looking, according to my notion of beauty, she had not been inaptly
described by the man who compared her to the full moon, for her large face was perfectly round and perfectly
white. Though very young, she was nevertheless extremely fat. She gave me the idea of having been got up for
sale, of having been fattened and whitened by medicines or by some peculiar diet. I was firmly determined not
to see any more of her than the face. She was perhaps disgusted at this my virtuous resolve, as well as with
my personal appearance; perhaps she saw my distaste and disappointment; perhaps she wished to gain favour with
her owner by showing her attachment to his faith. At all events, she holloed out very lustily and very
decidedly that "she would not be bought by the Infidel."
THE HOLY CARPET.
Whilst I remained at Cairo I thought it worth while to see something of the magicians, because I considered
that these men were in some sort the descendants of those who contended so stoutly against the superior power
of Aaron. I therefore sent for an old man who was held to be the chief of the magicians, and desired him to
show me the wonders of his art. The old man looked and dressed his character exceedingly well; the vast
turban, the flowing beard, and the ample robes were all that one could wish in the way of appearance. The
first experiment (a very stale one) which he attempted to perform for me was that of showing the forms and
faces of my absent friends, not to me, but to a boy brought in from the streets for the purpose, and said to
be chosen at random. A mangale (pan of burning charcoal) was brought into my room, and the magician bending
over it, sprinkled upon the fire some substances which must have consisted partly of spices or sweetly burning
woods, for immediately a fragrant smoke arose that curled
 around the bending form of the wizard, the while that he pronounced his first incantations. When these were
over the boy was made to sit down, and a common green shade was bound over his brow; then the wizard took ink,
and still continuing his incantations, wrote certain mysterious figures upon the boy's palm, and directed him
to rivet his attention to these marks without looking aside for an instant. Again the incantations proceeded,
and after a while the boy, being seemingly a little agitated, was asked whether he saw anything on the palm of
his hand. He declared that he saw a kind of military procession, with flags and banners, which he described
rather minutely. I was then called upon to name the absent person whose form was to be made visible. I named
Keate. You were not at Eton, and I must tell you, therefore, what manner of man it was that I named, though I
think you must have some idea of him already, for wherever from utmost Canada to Bundelcund—wherever
there was the whitewashed wall of an officer's room, or of any other apartment in which English gentlemen are
forced to kick their heels, there likely enough (in the days of his reign) the head of Keate would be seen
scratched or drawn with those various degrees of skill which one observes in the representations of saints.
Anybody without the least notion of drawing could still draw a speaking, nay scolding, likeness of Keate. If
you had no pencil, you could draw him well enough with a poker, or the leg of a chair, or the smoke of a
candle. He was little more (if more at all) than five feet in height, and was not very great in girth, but in
this space was concentrated the pluck of ten battalions. He had a really noble voice, which he could modulate
with great skill, but he had also the power of quacking like an angry duck, and he almost always adopted this
mode of communication in order to inspire respect. He was a capital scholar, but his ingenuous learning had
not "softened his manners" and had "permitted them to be fierce"—tremendously
fierce; he had the most complete command over his temper—I mean over his good temper, which
he scarcely ever allowed to appear: you could not put him
 out of humour—that is, out of the ill-humour which he thought to be fitting for a head-master.
His red shaggy eyebrows were so prominent, that he habitually used them as arms and hands for the purpose of
pointing out any object towards which he wished to direct attention; the rest of his features were equally
striking in their way, and were all and all his own; he wore a fancy dress partly resembling the costume of
Napoleon, and partly that of a widow-woman. I could not by any possibility have named anybody more decidedly
differing in appearance from the rest of the human race.
"Whom do you name?"—"I name John Keate."—"Now, what do you see?" said the wizard to the
boy.—"I see," answered the boy, "I see a fair girl with golden hair, blue eyes, pallid face, rosy lips."
There was a shot! I shouted out my laughter to the horror of the wizard, who perceiving the
grossness of his failure, declared that the boy must have known sin (for none but the innocent can see truth),
and accordingly kicked him downstairs.
One or two other boys were tried, but none could "see truth"; they all made sadly "bad shots."
Notwithstanding the failure of these experiments, I wished to see what sort of mummery my magician would
practise if I called upon him to show me some performances of a higher order than those which had been
attempted. I therefore entered into a treaty with him, in virtue of which he was to descend with me into the
tombs near the Pyramids, and there evoke the devil. The negotiation lasted some time, for Dthemetri, as in
duty bound, tried to beat down the wizard as much as he could, and the wizard, on his part, manfully stuck up
for his price, declaring that to raise the devil was really no joke, and insinuating that to do so was an
awesome crime. I let Dthemetri have his way in the negotiation, but I felt in reality very indifferent about
the sum to be paid, and for this reason, namely, that the payment (except a very small present which I might
make or not, as I chose) was to be contingent on success. At length the bargain was made, and it was
arranged that after a few days, to be allowed for preparation,
 the Wizard should raise the devil for two pounds ten, play or pay—no devil, no piastres.
The wizard failed to keep his appointment. I sent to know why the deuce he had not come to raise the devil.
The truth was, that my Mahomet had gone to the mountain. The plague had seized him, and he died.
Although the plague had now spread terrible havoc around me, I did not see very plainly any corresponding
change in the looks of the streets until the seventh day after my arrival. I then first observed that the city
was silenced. There were no outward signs of despair nor of violent terror, but many of the voices that
had swelled the busy hum of men were already hushed in death, and the survivors, so used to scream and screech
in their earnestness whenever they bought or sold, now showed an unwonted indifference about the affairs of
this world: it was less worth while for men to haggle and haggle, and crack the sky with noisy bargains, when
the great commander was there, who could "pay all their debts with the roll of his drum."
At this time I was informed that of twenty-five thousand people at Alexandria, twelve thousand had died
already; the destroyer had come rather later to Cairo, but there was nothing of weariness in his strides. The
deaths came faster than ever they befell in the plague of London; but the calmness of Orientals under such
visitations, and the habit of using biers for interment, instead of burying coffins along with the bodies,
rendered it practicable to dispose of the dead in the usual way, without shocking the people by any
unaccustomed spectacle of horror. There was no tumbling of bodies into carts, as in the plague of Florence and
the plague of London. Every man, according to his station, was properly buried, and that in the usual way,
except that he went to his grave at a pace more than usually rapid.
The funerals which poured through the streets were not the only public evidence of deaths. In Cairo this
custom prevails:—At the instant of a man's death (if his property is sufficient to justify the expense)
professional howlers are employed.
 I believe that these persons are brought near to the dying man when his end appears to be approaching, and the
moment that life is gone they lift up their voices and send forth a loud wail from the chamber of death. Thus
I knew when my near neighbours died; sometimes the howls were near, sometimes more distant. Once I was
awakened in the night by the wail of death in the next house, and another time by a like howl from the house
opposite; and there were two or three minutes, I recollect, during which the howl seemed to be actually
running along the street.
I happened to be rather teased at this time by a sore throat, and I thought it would be well to get it cured
if I could before I again started on my travels. I therefore inquired for a Frank doctor, and was informed
that the only one then at Cairo was a young Bolognese refugee, who was so poor that he had not been able to
take flight, as the other medical men had done. At such a time as this it was out of the question to send for
an European physician; a person thus summoned would be sure to suppose that the patient was ill of the plague,
and would decline to come. I therefore rode to the young doctor's residence. After experiencing some little
difficulty in finding where to look for him, I ascended a flight or two of stairs and knocked at his door. No
one came immediately, but after some little delay the medico himself opened the door, and admitted me. I of
course made him understand that I had come to consult him, but before entering upon my throat grievance I
accepted a chair, and exchanged a sentence or two of commonplace conversation. Now the natural commonplace of
the city at this season was of a gloomy sort, "Come va la Peste?" (how goes the Plague?) and this was
precisely the question I put. A deep sigh, and the words, "Sette cento per giorno, signor" (seven hundred a
day), pronounced in a tone of the deepest sadness and dejection, were the answer I received. The day was not
oppressively hot, yet I saw that the doctor was perspiring profusely, and even the outside surface of the
thick shawl dressing-gown, in which he had wrapped himself, appeared to be moist. He was a handsome,
pleasant-looking young fellow, but the deep melancholy of his
 tone did not tempt me to prolong the conversation, and without further delay I requested that my throat might
be looked at. The medico held my chin in the usual way, and examined my throat. He then wrote me a
prescription, and almost immediately afterwards I bade him farewell, but as he conducted me towards the door I
observed an expression of strange and unhappy watchfulness in his rolling eyes. It was not the next day, but
the next day but one, if I rightly remember, that I sent to request another interview with my doctor. In due
time Dthemetri, who was my messenger, returned, looking sadly aghast—he had "met the
medico," for so he phrased it, "coming out from his house—in a bier!"
It was of course plain that when the poor Bolognese was looking at my throat, and almost mingling his breath
with mine, he was stricken of the plague. I suppose that the violent sweat in which I found him had been
produced by some medicine, which he must have taken in the hope of curing himself. The peculiar rolling of the
eyes which I had remarked is, I believe, to experienced observers, a pretty sure test of the plague. A Russian
acquaintance, of mine, speaking from the information of men who had made the Turkish campaigns of 1828 and
1829, told me that by this sign the officers of Sabalkansky's force were able to make out the plague-stricken
soldiers with a good deal of certainty.
It so happened that most of the people with whom I had anything to do during my stay at Cairo were seized with
plague, and all these died. Since I had been for a long time en route before I reached Egypt, and
was about to start again for another long journey over the Desert, there were of course many little matters
touching my wardrobe and my travelling equipments which required to be attended to whilst I remained in the
city. It happened so many times that Dthemetri's orders in respect to these matters were frustrated by the
deaths of the tradespeople and others whom he employed, that at last I became quite accustomed to the peculiar
manner which he assumed when he prepared to announce a new death to me. The poor fellow naturally supposed
 should feel some uneasiness at hearing of the "accidents" which happened to persons employed by me, and he
therefore communicated their deaths as though they were the deaths of friends. He would cast down his eyes and
look like a man abashed, and then gently, and with a mournful gesture, allow the words, "Morto, signor," to
come through his lips. I don't know how many of such instances occurred, but they were several, and besides
these (as I told you before), my banker, my doctor, my landlord, and my magician all died of the plague. A lad
who acted as a helper in the house which I occupied lost a brother and a sister within a few hours. Out of my
two established donkey-boys, one died. I did not hear of any instance in which a plague-stricken patient had
Going out one morning I met unexpectedly the scorching breath of the kamsin wind, and fearing that I should
faint under the horrible sensations which it caused, I returned to my rooms. Reflecting, however, that I might
have to encounter this wind in the Desert, where there would be no possibility of avoiding it, I thought it
would be better to brave it once more in the city, and to try whether I could really bear it or not. I
therefore mounted my ass and rode to old Cairo, and along the gardens by the banks of the Nile. The wind was
hot to the touch, as though it came from a furnace. It blew strongly, but yet with such perfect steadiness,
that the trees bending under its force remained fixed in the same curves without perceptibly waving. The whole
sky was obscured by a veil of yellowish grey, that shut out the face of the sun. The streets were utterly
silent, being indeed almost entirely deserted; and not without cause, for the scorching blast, whilst it
fevers the blood, closes up the pores of the skin, and is terribly distressing, therefore, to every animal
that encounters it. I returned to my rooms dreadfully ill. My head ached with a burning pain, and my pulse
bounded quick and fitfully, but perhaps (as in the instance of the poor Levantine, whose death I was
mentioning), the fear and excitement which I felt in trying my own wrist may have made my blood flutter the
 It is a thoroughly well believed theory, that during the continuance of the plague you can't be ill of any
other febrile malady—an unpleasant privilege that! for ill I was, and ill of fever, and I anxiously
wished that the ailment might turn out to be anything rather than plague. I had some right to surmise that my
illness may have been merely the effect of the hot wind; and this notion was encouraged by the elasticity of
my spirits, and by a strong forefeeling that much of my destined life in this world was yet to come, and yet
to be fulfilled. That was my instinctive belief, but when I carefully weighed the probabilities on the one
side and on the other, I could not help seeing that the strength of argument was all against me. There was a
strong antecedent likelihood in favour of my being struck by the same blow as the rest of the
people who had been dying around me. Besides, it occurred to me that, after all, the universal opinion of the
Europeans upon a medical question, such as that of contagion, might probably be correct, and if it
were, I was so thoroughly "compromised," and especially by the touch and breath of the dying medico, that
I had no right to expect any other fate than that which now seemed to have overtaken me. Balancing as well as
I could all the considerations which hope and fear suggested, I slowly and reluctantly came to the conclusion
that, according to all merely reasonable probability, the plague had come upon me.
You would suppose that this conviction would have induced me to write a few farewell lines to those who were
dearest, and that having done that, I should have turned my thoughts towards the world to come. Such, however,
was not the case. I believe that the prospect of death often brings with it strong anxieties about matters of
comparatively trivial import, and certainly with me the whole energy of the mind was directed towards the one
petty object of concealing my illness until the latest possible moment—until the delirious stage. I did
not believe that either Mysseri or Dthemetri, who had served me so faithfully in all trials, would have
deserted me (as most Europeans are wont to do) when they knew that
 I was stricken by plague, but I shrank from the idea of putting them to this test, and I dreaded the
consternation which the knowledge of my illness would be sure to occasion.
I was very ill indeed at the moment when my dinner was served, and my soul sickened at the sight of the food;
but I had luckily the habit of dispensing with the attendance of servants during my meal, and as soon as I was
left alone I made a melancholy calculation of the quantity of food which I should have eaten if I had been in
my usual health, and filled my plates accordingly, and gave myself salt, and so on, as though I were going to
dine. I then transferred the viands to a piece of the omnipresent Times newspaper, and hid them
away in a cupboard, for it was not yet night, and I dared not throw the food into the street until darkness
came. I did not at all relish this process of fictitious dining, but at length the cloth was removed, and I
gladly reclined on my divan (I would not lie down) with the "Arabian Nights" in my hand.
I had a feeling that tea would be a capital thing for me, but I would not order it until the usual hour. When
at last the time came, I drank deep draughts from the fragrant cup. The effect was almost instantaneous. A
plenteous sweat burst through my skin, and watered my clothes through and through. I kept myself thickly
covered. The hot tormenting weight which had been loading my brain was slowly heaved away. The fever was
extinguished. I felt a new buoyancy of spirits, and an unusual activity of mind. I went into my bed under a
load of thick covering, and when the morning came, and I asked myself how I was, I answered, "Perfectly well."
I was very anxious to procure, if possible, some medical advice for Mysseri, whose illness prevented my
departure. Every one of the European practising doctors, of whom there had been many, had either died or fled.
It was said, however, that there was an Englishman in the medical service of the Pasha who quietly remained at
his post, but that he never engaged in private practice. I determined to try if I could
 obtain assistance in this quarter. I did not venture at first, and at such a time as this, to ask him to visit
a servant who was prostrate on the bed of sickness, but thinking that I might thus gain an opportunity of
persuading him to attend Mysseri, I wrote a note mentioning my own affair of the sore throat, and asking for
the benefit of his medical advice. He instantly followed back my messenger, and was at once shown up into my
room. I entreated him to stand off, telling him fairly how deeply I was "compromised," and especially by my
contact with a person actually ill and since dead of plague. The generous fellow, with a good-humoured laugh
at the terrors of the contagionists, marched straight up to me, and forcibly seized my hand, and shook it with
manly violence. I felt grateful indeed, and swelled with fresh pride of race because that my countryman could
carry himself so nobly. He soon cured Mysseri as well as me, and all this he did from no other motives than
the pleasure of doing a kindness and the delight of braving a danger.
At length the great difficulty
which I had had in procuring beasts for my departure was overcome, and now, too, I was to have the new
excitement of travelling on dromedaries. With two of these beasts and three camels I gladly wound my way from
out of the pest-stricken city. As I passed through the streets I observed a fanatical-looking elder, who
stretched forth his arms, and lifted up his voice in a speech which seemed to have some reference to me.
Requiring an interpretation, I found that the man had said, "The Pasha seeks camels, and he finds them not;
the Englishman says, 'Let camels be brought—and behold, there they are!"
I no sooner breathed the free, wholesome air of the Desert than I felt that a great burden which I had been
scarcely conscious of bearing was lifted away from my mind. For nearly three weeks I had lived under peril of
death; the peril ceased, and not till then did I know how much alarm and anxiety I had really been suffering.
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